Yesterday Microsoft held their media briefing at E3 to highlight where they are headed with electronic entertainment on the 5 1/2 year old Xbox 360 console. As I mentioned in my highlights post there was nothing revealed that we did not pretty much expect. We heard about Xbox SmartGlass that expands your interaction and use of gaming and other entertainment across all your smart devices and we heard about Xbox Music which will replace the Zune service and also be accessible on your Xbox console, Windows 8 machines and Windows Phone.
Of course several games were shown off including new titles that will support Kinect. They also announced 35 new media partners including the NBA, NHL and 24 hours a day streaming from ESPN.
We did not hear about the next Xbox console but then we had been told a few weeks ago that would be the case although I think many people hoped they would surprise us anyway.
As I followed the briefing I also kept an eye on Twitter for reactions to the material and the majority of reactions reflected being underwhelmed by what was being discussed/announced. Part of that might just be that we had an idea of many of the things we were going to hear about. Add to that the fact there were no huge reveals or immediately available new services and most viewers left the briefing feeling like they had not gotten anything from the 90 minute presentation.
The Xbox 360 console will be six years old in November and the PlayStation 3 will reach its sixth birthday at the same time and we are really stretching the life of this technology.
Think about it – how many of you still have a piece of technology which is that old? Most of us swap out our TV’s every 3-5 years and our cell phones every 18-24 months. That does not even take into account our computers, laptops, tablets and other technology devices which cycle in and out of our homes at light speed.
In June 2010 the console got a small hardware refresh in the form of the Xbox 360 S which was revealed at E3 2010. It came with integrated wireless connectivity, two extra USB ports and a AUX port that we would learn was for the Kinect device. Microsoft also showed Project Natal aka Kinect to the world at E3 2010 and Kinect would be a significant shot in the arm for the Xbox 360 console. The Kinect hit retail stores in November 2010 and became an instant hit selling 8 million units in the first two months of its availability.
As of January 2012 there have been 18 million Kinect devices sold and they really did bring in a lot of the Wii crowd and casual gamers who purchased a console bundled with the hands free controller.
Then in December 2011, Microsoft further extended the life span of the Xbox 360 console by appealing to one of the most popular things we do as a society – watch television and movies.
The dashboard update that came out last December added the first wave of entertainment partners, over 40 of them, to provide streaming services on the console. On top of that they integrated the new Kinect device for voice and motion control of the various services on the console. The Bing search engine also became part of the console dashboard for the first time. Now we could interact with an entertainment device using our hands and voices.
So now we arrive at E3 2012 and what is perceived as Microsoft’s underwhelming media briefing. As mentioned earlier, there were not any huge surprises but more like confirmations for things like Xbox SmartGlass and Xbox Music. We did hear about 35 more media partners that will join the streaming services later this year including some major hitters in sports and entertainment. They also showed off the first part of an upcoming trilogy for one of the most popular games ever released on Xbox – Halo 4 – which includes the return of the ever popular Master Chief.
I believe 2012 is a transition year for the Xbox 360. Likely we will hear next year about the next version of Xbox. Of course that device will easily handle all of the streaming entertainment options that the Xbox currently plans to have available. The huge improvement on the next console is going to be the improvements that directly impact gaming with what will likely be more horsepower across the board to run the next generation of games.
So for everyone who thinks Microsoft is shooting themselves in the foot by not coming out with anything dramatic this year at E3 2012 – hang tight – the best is coming – they just needed a little time to get there.